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Akhello Witherspoon signing adds to interesting roster battle at cornerback

How many cornerbacks will the Rams keep after signing Ahkello Witherspoon.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

When the Los Angeles Rams finally begin training camp in July, there will be plenty of eyes on roster battles at a handful of positions. One of those positions will be at cornerback where the Rams will have a lot of players looking to compete for one of the final spots on the depth chart.

Second-year player Cobie Durant is most likely a lock to make the roster. However, behind him is where things get interesting. The Rams have Derion Kendrick, Robert Rochell, Shaun Jolly, and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson along with Timarcus Davis, Jordan Jones, and Vincent Gray.

Now, on Thursday, the Rams added former San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Akhello Witherspoon to the mix. With the likelihood of only keeping four or maybe five cornerbacks at most, the Witherspoon signing makes the competition at cornerback just that much more interesting as training camp gets closer.

The big question here is how many cornerbacks do the Rams end up keeping? Last season, the Rams initially kept six cornerbacks. However, Jalen Ramsey, David Long Jr., and Troy Hill are no longer on the team. In 2021, the Rams initially kept just four with Ramsey, Darious Williams, Long, and Rochell. The same can be said about 2020 when the team once again kept just four cornerbacks.

With that in mind, history would suggest that the Rams will keep only four cornerbacks and go a little deeper at the safety position instead. However, the signing of Withspoon certainly adds a wrinkle.

Looking through the current Rams cornerbacks, the conundrum seems to come with Rochell. Durant is a lock to make the roster as he’s coming off of a strong rookie season. Kendrick may not be a lock, but he’s someone that the Rams do seem to like and he got experience last season. Lastly, Hodges-Tomlinson was drafted back in April and it would be assumed that he’ll make the final 53-man roster.

If the Rams do indeed keep four cornerbacks as they have shown in the past, that leaves Witherspoon, Rochell, Jolly, etc. all competing for one final roster spot. Given that the Rams just signed Witherspoon, he would be seen as the favorite heading into training camp.

Of course, the Rams could keep another cornerback or two. It would just mean making cuts and cutting depth at other positions. What the Witherspoon signing really signals is what the Rams potentially think of Rochell.

Withspoon had a down year in 2022 due to a hamstring injury, but he’s been effective throughout his career. In 2021, his 78.8 coverage grade according to Pro Football Focus ranked eighth and he ranked second in man coverage. Withspoon allowed a reception on just 48.5 percent of his targets and allowed a 48 QB rating. Both of those marks were the third best in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the 2023 season will mark the third season for Rochell. Up to this point, despite having good size and athletic traits, he’s never been able to put it together and find playing time on defense. Rochell played 146 coverage snaps according to Pro Football Focus in 2021. Last season, that number dropped down to 11 as Kendrick seemed to surpass him on the depth chart.

Both Witherspoon and Rochell are tall, lengthy cornerback. The big different is that Withspoon has had some level of success in the NFL.

Players like Jolly, Davis, and Jones will all likely be practice squad candidates. With the new changes to the practice squad, the Rams could always put Rochell there as well. However, given that he’s in year three, that’s not really what you want to see.

Either way, the cornerback position will be an interesting one to watch in training camp. The signing of Withspoon makes things more complicated at the cornerback position, but with the current state of the Rams defense, that’s a good problem to have.